The 1997 Tony Awards telecast on CBS and PBS skyrocketed in the national ratings to 48 percent over the 1996 telecast on CBS. The awards posted their highest ratings in 10 years.
CBS announced that the national rating for the telecast was 9.6 or a 16 share.
"We're elated," said Kevin Rehac, a spokesperson for the Tony Awards. "This is everything we ever hoped for and much more!"
A single rating point represents 97,000 households, so a 9.6 rating translates to roughly 10 million households nationwide that were tuned in. A share shows percentage of televisions being used at the time that are tuned into the broadcast. In other words, 16 percent of the televisions in use between 9-11 PM, June 1, were tuned to CBS-TV's broadcast of the Tony Awards.
The Tony telecast on CBS was the second highest rated program of the night, coming in behind the NBC broadcast of game one of the NBA Championship between the Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz. It won the night with 13.3 rating and a 22 share. Monday, June 2, the day after the Tonys, the American Theatre Wing and League of American Theatres and Producers, who co-administer the Tonys, received the news that the overnight ratings in 37 major metropolitan markets for the CBS two-hour Tony telecast were up 36 percent over the 1996 telecast, which had posted one of the lowest ratings since national telecasts of the awards began in 1967.
With the national ratings still to come (and expected to drop some because they would reflect nationwide Neilsen viewing), there was no complaining.
Rehac reported the Tony telecast posted an impressive overnight rating of 11.2 in those 37 markets, which translated into a 17 share. "Compare this to the 1996 Tony overnight rating of 8.3 in 32 markets," he said, "which was a mere 13 share."
Bill Baker, president of WNET Channel 13 (New York), reported, "This is extremely exciting news. We couldn't be happier. We set out to telecast an additional hour of the Tony Awards as a public service to our viewers and have reaped untold rewards."
Roselynn Marra, publicist for WNET, reported that their overnight rating for the PBS hour segment was 5.4 and a 8 share. She noted, "This is two times more than our normal share for that time slot, in excess of a half-million more viewers."
How much did Rosie O'Donnell's hosting of the ceremony have to do with this? "As you could tell from the comments of the hosts and nominees, a lot of people loved her," said Rehac. "She's high profile and promoted the Tonys tirelessly." However, he noted that some people did have "qualms."
Some Playbill On-Liners complained that O'Donnell seemed nervous, too rehearsed, and too dependent on the cue cards. But the majority loved "our Rosie."
The huge increase in TV ratings for the Tonys proves it doesn't hurt to have a big fan of Broadway as host of a hot talk and variety show.
Last year's nationals garnered a 6.5 rating and an 11 share.
CBS spokesperson Mark Erlichson told Playbill On-Line that overnight ratings are measured differently from national ratings. "Overnights are taken from 37 major cities; nationals are based on the minutes the Neilsen company's households actually spend watching the show."
Glenn Du Bose, co-executive producer (with Jac Venza) of the much- acclaimed PBS hour of the telecast, where 10 awards were presented by the celebrity likes of Lauren Bacall and Liza Minnelli, said, "I'm happy we had the time to create our four packages that celebrate the workings of theater. Sorry to say, only three aired. Those acceptance speeches again! A couple ran too long, so we had to omit the last package which took the viewer backstage to meet the actors in all sorts of circumstances."
The "packages" ran approximately nine minutes, a luxury that could never be found on commercial network TV.
"We were given incredible access for our cameras," said Du Bose. "so we were able to show the nation what it's like backstage and behind the scenes (how directors and the various designers approach their work), even at the recording sessions of the new musicals.